Well, not in Napa Valley but in Argentina and in other parts of the southern hemisphere. We are in the Mendoza wine country of Argentina where the harvest has been taking place since the beginning of February and will continue through April. We were fortunate to see harvesters working the vineyards at two wineries we visited, and we also had a very nice chat with a small vineyard owner who explained in detail the way harvest works in Argentina.
The crew consists of workers from the northern part of Argentina who spend the entire agricultural season traveling from crop to crop. For the wine industry, crews can be hired from an agency or as individuals. When a winery uses an agency, they pay the agency a fee and pay each worker by the amount he or she picks. Smaller wineries may have their own crew that they hire individually. These workers are also paid by each bin they fill. There are no unions, so all the workers can do is walk off a job to try and negotiate a better rate with the winery.
The metal bin holds some 18 kilos or 40 lbs. of grapes when filled. The worker carries the bin to a half-ton container and empties the bin. After emptying the bin the worker passes by a person, usually a woman, who tosses a chip into the bin. The worker picks out the chip and puts it safely away. The chip is worth 1.6 pesos. About 3.6 pesos are equal to one dollar. The young, strong, and fast harvesters can fill and lug 50 bins in one day. That amounts to some $22 for a day of work, not very much for the amazing amount work they do. We were surprised that work is done throughout the day. The days can be very hot and workers are completely dressed, using scarves and hats to protect them from exposure to the sun. We also see several women working the harvest. For the most part, they work with their husbands, whose job it is to carry the bin when it is filled. The workers use a very strong and sharp pair of scissors to cut the grape clusters as opposed to pruning shears or the sharp- bladed, hook-shaped knife used in the Napa Valley harvest. They must remove all leaves from the bin.
A few vineyard owners pay the harvesters more. Ironically, a woman we spoke to who owns small vineyards told us that she paid her workers 3.2 pesos a bin and they walked off the job because they wanted more. The next day she hired an agency crew to finish the job.